A 21st century retelling of a 1st century story
(sometimes known as the parable of the prodigal son).
Johnathon Tiptree owned a small, successful business that had a handful of employees, He had started and built up over the years from nothing. Tiptree’s Garden Centre and Nursery had not made him a rich man but he and his family lived comfortably, in their own home. He had been successful enough that although he did not have much money saved or spare capital in the business, neither did he have any debts against the business and he had paid off the mortgage on their home three years ago.
A year ago, he had been so proud when his eldest son, Malcolm, called Mal by everyone, joined him in the business which he had then renamed Tiptree & Son Garden Centre. He was hoping, but not with great confidence, that his younger son, Jason, would also join the business in due course. He would again rename the business to Tiptree and Sons.
It was summer time, the middle of the school summer holidays, a good time of year for the gardening business. Jason was unsteadily making his way home from the White Hart pub, with an envelop he had collected earlier from his sixth form college, folded over and stuffed carelessly into his back pocket. it was his ‘A’ level exam results which he had scraped through, just, by the slimmest of margins.
He knew though that, with his poor grades, he was not going to get into Salthouse Business School, the university he had most wanted. He was now going to have to apply through the common application system and hope that something suitable was left for him after all the best places had been taken up, by the students with the good exam grades.
Jason had spent a good few hours of his last term in the college’s computer room, looking up on the internet university prospectuses, trying to find a course for himself for the next three years. His main effort was concentrated on finding a soft option, that he thought would not tax him overly much might be a bit of fun and had a chance of a good social side. He had finally settled on Tourism and Leisure for his first choice, or Media studies. Now, though, his most immediate concern wasn’t that he’d missed his choice of a place but that he might be stuck with some subject where he might have to actually do some work.
By the time Jason got home, his dad and brother were already back from the garden centre, probably to wait for him to hear his exam results. He didn’t bother to stop and tell them, just went straight up to his room shutting the door behind himself. He knew this behavior would not be thought odd; he didn’t get along well with his dad for much of the time and only talked to him when it was necessary or unavoidable. This time, he knew, he was just putting off the inevitable moment when he would have to reveal his poor exam performance. Jason’s older brother Mal, had left college two years earlier, with good ‘A’ level grades that would have almost given him his pick of university. He had chosen instead to join their dad in the business,
When Jason finally went downstairs to join his dad and brother for their evening meal, his Mother having died some years ago, as he expected the first thing his Dad asked was ”Well, are you going to tell us your exam results?” Even then, Jason prevaricate a while longer, saying he had passed all his exams which, technically at least, was true. It took further prodding and questioning by his father to reveal that of the four subjects he had taken, only in Film Studies had he managed to scrape anything better than ‘C’ grades.
Wisely for a change, and somewhat to his own surprise, Jason did not try to justify his poor performance or argue with his Father. He let his Dad vent his anger and disappointment, before going back to his room, taking a drink with himself but not having eaten his meal. Again showing a bit more sense than was usual for him, he did not try to talk to his dad again about it until the next morning, after they had both had some time to cool down.
Mal had already gone to work by the time Jason came down for breakfast, and found his Father waiting for him. His dad’s first words came as possibly the one of biggest surprises of his life. His Father asked simply “What do you want to do?”. Jason poured himself a cup of tea before answering and then, sitting down at the table opposite his father, said he would like to try for university. He knew that his dad had hoped he would join the business and that this would be a disappointment to him.
After giving his dad a few moments to get over the disappointment, he went on to explain that he would have to go through the common application process, and that his choices would be limited. He told his Father everything, except for the fact that he was now planning to try for a place at a university in America.
He could not believe how calmly his dad took it all. He had been told to put in his application, check on the costs and confirm how much he would get for a student loan, then to go back and talk to his dad again if, or when he had been offered a place.
He was lucky. Even with his poor results, he was offered courses at two universities, although he was not going to tell his dad this. Johnathon Tiptree was only going to know about the Digital Art course at Risborough, in Idaho, which he guessed would be the easier course. And, he had all his costs worked out too. Jason told his dad he could borrow £15,500.00 annually in student loans which would pay about two thirds of his tuition fees each year but, because of his dad’s income from the business, he would not get a maintenance grant for his living expenses. These he had estimated to be about a further £5000.00 in each year of the course, if he stayed in student accommodation. In addition, he would need a further £2000.00 a year to cover his travel costs.
It was only when Jason said how much the travel as going to cost that his dad questioned any of the sums of money involved, so that was when it was finally explained that Risborough Uni. was in Idaho. The transport costs he estimated would cover three or four return, economy flights home each year, which he actually had no intention of doing once he got out to America on the cheapest single ticket he could get.
Johnathon Tiptree arranged for his son to get all the travel money and a further £2000.00 before he left, to cover his initial expenses on arrival at the uni. and he assured Jason that if he couldn’t get the rest before the day he travelled, he would send it by international money transfer. On the day before Jason was due to fly out, his Dad gave him a further cheque for £3,000.00 and said that the rest would be transferred to Jason’s new US bank account before the first term started.
With the money Jason had already been given, and had already exchanged for US dollars, by the time he got on the plane to America, he had $10,000.00 in his pocket, enough to cover all his first years expenses with the remainder to be paid to the university directly by the student loan company.
On arriving in America, Jason stayed a night in New York and took an internal flight the next day, finally arriving at the university by taxi from the airport. After he booked in and dropped his luggage in his room on the campus, the first thing he did was find a phone, call his father and say that the student loan had not been paid to the university. Jason had not told his dad that student loans were only given to students studying in Britain. Nevertheless using that pretext, Jason lied to his dad and asked if he could borrow the extra money he needed for the tuition fees “just until the student loan comea through”. Johnathon Tiptree was not happy about it but eventually agreed.
It took Jason’s father a couple of days to arrange the additional funds and send them by international money transfer. Jason already had most of the easily accessible family savings, so to cover what his son had told him would be the student loan amount, Johnathon Tiptree had had to take out a bank loan. Because he had to arrange the loan quickly, the bank had set a high interest rate but, as he thought it was just a short term loan until the student loan came through, he accepted the bank’s terms.
Once Jason’s dad had made all the arrangements and got the all money transferred to Jason’s American account, ostensibly to pay the university, Jason had had over £30,000.00 of the family’s money in his account.
After transferring the money to his son, Johnathon Tiptree heard nothing for over a month. When he eventually did get a telephone call, it was not from his son but about him. At the time the first payment on the bank loan was due, when Jason’s dad had intended to fully repay the bank loan using the student loan that should by then have been issued, he got a phone call from his son’s university. Jason’s tuition fees had not been paid. They said that payment was required within seven days, or Jason would be asked to leave.
Jason’s dad had no option but to make the first payment on the bank loan, which he thought would be repaid within the month. He then spent a lot of time, and money the next week trying to phone his son.
Jason, it later transpired, had stayed at the university just long enough to use it as a mailing address, until he received all the money. The next day he had walked out of uni. flown up to Las Vegas, checked into a hotel and within a day of leaving Idaho was at a poker table in one of the casinos. For the first few days, he actually made a small profit. At the end of the first week he had more than doubled his money but instead of walking away with a profit, he kept on playing and luck, eventually, always runs out.
By the end of another month, having got overconfident on a couple of big bets, Jason was down to just $5000.00, or just over £3000.00. What he hadn’t gambled, he had drunk or spent entertaining women, or buying their services and the next day he left the hotel without paying his bill, moving to a cheaper place on the edge of town.
Back home, the autumn and winter are always a slack time of year for garden centres and Tiptrees was no exception. His father having had trouble making the repayments on the loan from the bank, had been forced to take on a partner in the business, in exchange for enough money to clear the debt. Tiptrees Garden Centre was no longer just a family business.
Soon after moving into the cheaper hotel, Jason had met Chas and Chas had introduced him to some of his other ‘friends’. These were gamblers and but not like those in the big casinos, most of which Jason was now barred from. These gamblers were dishonest and were still some of the less dubious characters that he met through Chas. On a combination of cards, drink and drugs they fleeced Jason of his remaining money within a few days, very quickly loosing interest in him once they found out he was broke.
Jason moved again to a cheaper hotel still where rooms could also be rented by the hour, getting a small, filthy back room and use of an unsanitary, communal bathroom. He managed to persuade the hotel’s owner to give him odd jobs cleaning, mainly cleaning, for which he got the room rent free but no money. He was hungry most of the time as the occasional, irregular work he could get, on top of his hours at the hotel, paid only a pittance so he could barely afford to eat and had a couple of times been reduced to scavenging for scraps or petty crime to get money to buy food.
Eventually when he could stand it no longer so, swallowing his pride and scraping together some change, he phoned his father. After the inevitable how are you, where have you been, having not heard from his son in months, came the question Jason had been dreading; why have you called now, what do you want?
Jason did not know about his father having sold part of the business, to get him the money he had frittered and gambled away and so as he himself had only just enough for the phone call, he came straight to the point and asked for enough money for his air fare home. Johnathon Tiptree refused point blank to send his son any more money but, he would make arrangements for the flight and send a ticket; non refundable and non transferable.
Five days later Jason arrived at the airport, with nothing but the clothes he stood up in and his passport. The airport security guards were suspicious of such a disreputable looking young man, and would not let him enter without sending a guard with him to the ticket desk until they could verify he did have a ticket to travel. Jason felt humiliated, being marched through the airport by a guard, convinced that everyone was looking at him and laughing. It was not any better at the security gate before the plane, where he was searched before being allowed to board.
On the plane, he was seated right at the back beside the galley and the toilet. He guessed that this must be so that the cabin crew could keep an eye on him, and seat him near the fewest number of unlucky passengers possible.
Even when his plane landed back in England and he was relieved that he would soon rejoin his family, his humiliation was not complete. The final, degrading indignity came when customs offices insisted on detaining him, to strip search him. He suspected that they had been informed in advance of his arrival by the American authorities, because they didn’t just draw him discretely to one side at the customs hall. They were waiting for him at the top of the jetway off of the plane and two of them escorted him through immigration and into the customs secure area. He had anticipated being stopped and searched but not like this.
Even after the strip search, he was not allowed to leave. He was detained for a further 24 hours, in case anything he might have been smuggling internally needed the time to pass through and be expelled.
Finally, more than 40 hours after his journey home had begun, he was allowed to leave HM Customs hall. As he walked through the sliding, automatic doors into the throng of people waiting to meet friends and relatives arriving, he saw his dad almost immediately.
Johnathon Tiptree looked tired and dishevelled but not disreputable, like Jason. He had been waiting for his youngest son from the moment the flight had been due to land and he looked weary. When he spotted his son though, his eyes brightened and some of the tiredness seemed to fall away as he ran up to his son, grabbed him and hugged him tightly for what seemed to Jason like ages. Jason just stood there, eyes closed, numb and ashamed. Eventually he raised his arms and returned his father’s embrace, holding on tightly less his legs buckled under him. When they released each other both men had tears in their eyes.
As the two of them turned to leave the airport, walking out to the car park, Jason finally managed to say a few words. They were not the words he’d rehearsed in his head a hundred times, on the flight back to the UK. They just tumbled out of his mouth “Dad I’m sorry. I’ve done all sorts of illegal and wrong things and immoral things, to you and to others and under heaven, you must think I’m evil. I don’t deserve to have a father like you.” As they reached the car, his father unlocked it and opened the door to get in but just before he did, he looked across the roof of the car and said “You’re my son and I love you. You’re annoying, headstrong and irresponsible but you’re my son and you’re home again. I just hope you’ve learnt your lesson”.
They sat in silence in the car on the drive home. When they drew up outside the house, Jason’s dad looked across at his son and said, “Come on, back where you belong.”. When they got inside, Jason’s father sent him for a bath. When Jason opened his mouth to protest, he was told “You need it. And put some clean clothes on before you come down”.
Once his son was out of the way Johnathon Tiptree was quickly on the phone to friends and staff from the garden centre, telling them he had arrived home and to come straight round with the things he had asked them to prepare before he had left for the airport to collect his son.. By the time Jason had had a long soak in the bath, having gone to sleep until the water was nearly cold, and then dressed again, everything was ready downstairs.
When he came down and walked into the living room, a shout went up of Welcome Home Jason and his eyes lit upon the table covered in food and drink and then, looking around he saw all the friends, invited to celebrate his return. A few people shouted for a speech but he just thanked them all and said to help themselves and enjoy the party.
When Mal arrived home later, after closing up the garden centre, he could hear the music and laughter in the house from out in the street, so he asked one of the guests, who was just leaving, what was going on. He was informed that their dad had thrown a party to celebrate Jason’s homecoming.
Mal knew of course that his little brother was due back today but he hadn’t known about the party. As he stood outside his home, refusing to go in, his mood got blacker by the minute and his anger rose and the knuckles of his balled fists whitened. He turned and walked stiffly away, striding purposefully along the path. Just before he was out of sight of the house, he threw a burning glance back over his shoulder and as he did so, he saw his father rush out of the front door, wave and call after him; his dad must have seen him through the window before he had turned to go. Mal stopped but made no move to go back, instead waiting for his father to catch up with him.
“Why are you going”, he asked his son. “To the pub”, retorted Mal sharply “I said why, not where?” his father asked again. Then Mal vented his frustration, shouting at his dad about all the time he had given to him and all the effort he had put into the business, only to see half of it sold off. He ranted on for several minutes, about how his feckless little brother gets a party just for coming home, after it was his fault that half the business had had to be sold.
“You don’t get it, do you son” Johnathon Tiptree sais to his oldest boy. “Everything we have will be yours”. “I had two sons and I lost one but now he has returned; my family is complete again, that’s something worth celebrating.” Maybe you’ll understand one day, when you’re a father too”.
Original parable, Luke 15:11 — 32